ed. by Peter E. Knox and J. C. McKeown
OUP (2013) p/b 633pp £22.99 (ISBN 9780195395167)
The title of this bulky collection does not perhaps make immediately clear just what it contains: ‘Roman literature’ turns out to include not just authors who wrote in Latin, but certain other texts in Greek (e.g. Polybius). Secondly, it is a collection of literature entirely in translation: these versions are taken mainly from the Oxford ‘World’s Classics’ series, although a few come from the Loeb Library; the poetic texts are rendered in verse.
There is naturally always going to be disagreement about what should be included in an anthology. A total of 28 authors is represented here, of whom 12 are writers in verse, and they range from the second century B.C. to Marcus Aurelius. As you would expect, the obvious candidates are duly present: Virgil is here, and so is a generous helping of Ovid, together with Tacitus’ Annals; possibly less obvious ones are Statius, from his Thebaid, Josephus, and a large chunk of Lucan. The absence of Terence is a disappointment (but there is Plautus’ Menaechmi—complete). Indeed, the editors have made a particular point of presenting their extracts mostly ‘in full or in substantial unbroken passages’. Hence the Aeneid appears in the form of one extract, the whole of book 4, and no others; you do, however, get all of Eclogue 4 and book 1 of the Georgics also for your money. I am not sure whether it was a wise decision to follow their principle so firmly that they print the whole of book 1 of Horace’s Odes but nothing from (say) book 3. Likewise, the Catullus selection consists of all the poems 1–60 but offers none of the elegiacs in the collection (apart from a very few included in the introduction to the author), nor any of poem 64. This determination to adhere to the ‘substantial unbroken’ principle does strike me as unduly rigid and makes this book rather less satisfactory as an anthology than it could have been. It is really only in the case of Martial’s epigrams and Pliny the Younger (and to some extent Petronius) that a genuine range of passages is picked out for inclusion.
In fact, the choice of texts seems to have been quite strongly influenced by a desire to make this book a useful companion to courses in comparative literature. The editors have been careful to provide an extensive and valuable introduction to each author, and to set the extracts firmly in context; in addition, each author’s section is followed by an ‘afterword’, which sets out the subsequent fate of his work and in particular traces its influence on later writers. Four maps are provided, in ascending order of scale, all in a severely plain black and white format: the first one which shows the whole Roman Empire unfortunately suffers from a determination to include so many place-names in Greece that it is sadly difficult to make them out at that scale amongst the clutter.
It is good, then, to have an impressive collection of material for a modest price, but a more judicious use of the space would have improved it.